Islamic center near ground zero touts first big event as center’s grand opening
The site of the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan.
September 19th, 2011
10:28 AM ET

Islamic center near ground zero touts first big event as center’s grand opening

By Heather M. Higgins,CNN

New York (CNN) - Earlier this month, signs of life returned to what was once a gaping pit, frozen in sadness and rife with emotion, as part of the memorial at the World Trade Center opened on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

This week, another grand opening – this one steeped in controversy – is scheduled for just a few blocks away from the site where the Twin Towers once stood.

The first part of Park51, the planned Lower Manhattan Islamic community center that sparked an international controversy last year, is set to open Wednesday with an art exhibit that features photographs of children.

“It is a huge step forward,” said Katerina Lucas, Park51’s chief of staff. “I hope it shows we are about inclusion, not exclusion.”

The photography exhibit, Park51’s first big public event, comprises portraits of children from 169 countries who now live in New York City. The opening coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.

When plans to construct the high-rise Islamic institution were unveiled last year, a heated debate erupted over whether it was insensitive to build it so close to the site attacked by Islamic extremists.

Though the interfaith center’s leaders said the project was rooted in a spirit of cooperation and coexistence, it provoked vocal opposition from some families of 9/11 victims, politicians and others.

The driving force behind much of this opposition was Pamela Geller, editor and publisher of a blog called Atlas Shrugs.

Geller organized a protest of Park51 on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11 and says she is appalled at the organization’s decision to highlight the photographs of children.

“It is an obvious and cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion and divert attention away from the Islamic supremacist ties, shady financial dealings, and contradictory statements of the mosque organizers,” Geller said in an e-mail.

But Park 51’s photography exhibit is a reminder that the project is quietly moving forward, despite rumors that it had been put on hold.

With $70,000 raised in under two months via KickStarter.com, a funding platform for creative projects, the remodeled space at 51 Park Place will serve as a temporary community center until groundbreaking for the rest of the building.

The project’s developers, led by Park51 Chairman Sharif El-Gamal, have hired a staff of six and continue to hold Muslim prayers at the space, just north of ground zero. But they are not speculating about a timeline for construction.

In June, El-Gamal parted ways with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric who had been the public face of Park51, over a difference in vision.

At a recent interfaith event honoring 9/11 families, Rauf said his vision to build an American-Muslim identity and enhance multi-faith dialogue hasn’t changed in 20 years.

Even though Rauf isn’t associated with Park51 any longer, he continues to focus his energy on establishing a Muslim center in Chautauqua, New York, with the hope it can be replicated in the United States and around the world.

Park51’s planners say they are committed to their original Lower Manhattan location. They are now seeking to raise $7 to $10 million in financing.

“We have broken some ground, but there are still many hurdles,” Lucas said, pointing to fundraising as the biggest one.

Lucas, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 2009, said the upcoming photography exhibition is about showcasing the diversity of New York City, which includes Muslims.

“Islam is not about extremism,” she said. “We can have a meaningful dialogue across religions.”

It’s a message shared by Danny Goldfield, the Brooklyn artist behind the exhibit. He got the idea for his children-focused series while driving from Los Angeles to New York in 2003, right after the war in Iraq started.

“I met Danny Goldfield when Park51 was still a new idea. Danny told me about NYChildren and I said his photographs should be the first event at Park51," El-Gamal said in a statement. "I am proud to say the idea has been realized. Opening this incarnation of the community center is a fantastic accomplishment."

Goldfield photographed children living in New York City’s five boroughs from countries as different as Japan and Zimbabwe and as far apart as Afghanistan and Argentina.

While his pictures have been on display before, this is the first time he has shown them all at once.

The exhibit will be open for approximately three months. Over 700 people have been invited to the opening and Lucas said that others are welcome, too.

“I bring photos together on a wall the same way a space brings people together,” Goldfield said.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Islam • New York

soundoff (1,287 Responses)
  1. f

    @footnotegirl – sorry for my misspellings. I get so angry at STUPID "love-all" people like footnotegirl I can't spell straight. The evidence is overwhelming. ALL 9/11 terrorists were MUSLIM. No Catholics, Jew, Protestants, Pagans, Witches, Buddhists, ONLY MUSLIMS. AND they still want to kill you.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @ f


      Islamic fundamentalists aren't exactly appealing to the IRA to "team up" and perpatrate a crime together. I think the "love all" people your talking about are the people who believe, in spite of a few fundamenatlists, that everyone has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless of gender, race, religion, etc.... if you disagree with that, well then I guess America isn't for you.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Did you ever notice EVERY single Nazi was Christian, and they STILL want to kill you.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • collins61

      Ever notice it people like Chuckles and William who put the rest of us in harms way by thinking a everybody means us no harm? I didn't see one turban on one of the founding fathers. Its a safe bet Barbary Coast Musslemen's rights were not a priority then. Why now?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Turbans are related to Sikhism, NOT Islam. Please learn the difference, because many Sikh's are suffering because the rest of America is either too stupid or too lazy to understand the difference.

      Secondly, who said anyone is willing to put us into harms way? I'm saying generalization is a very dangerous thing. The real question I have for you is what do you believe in? Do you think its right to have freedom of religion, press and speech as long as it applies to only christians?

      I have no issue with tighter security and making sure we are protected by extremeists who want to do us harm, but why is it acceptable to leave out muslims when the extremeists of their own religion want them dead as much as every other American? If they came to America to escape religious extremism, then don't we have a duty, as humans, to protect others who are seeking refuge? Or again, does that apply only to people in your "in-group"?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Actually it is YOU and yours that are the biggest risk.

      We need not worry about the bats in THEIR belfry, we have PLENTY of kooks right here.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  2. AmazingSteve

    Here's a fun idea: at the end of every post, lets put our religious leanings (or the closest word you have to summarize your religious views). That way, if you post a hateful statement that groups all Muslims together with a few deranged terrorists, we can look up all the atrocities, crimes, and indiscretions committed by a member of YOUR particular sect and blame YOU for them.


    September 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Self worshiper, with a minor worship of redheds with fair skin.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Daniel

      Pastafarian. rAmen.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • collins61

      Stuff it Atheist, you, of everybody, offer the least. You're about no belief system, no God, No nothing, so, why are you here?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • f

      Atheist = I don't care about anything.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Hmmm...I'm a redhead and have light skin. Nice to see some finally realize out nigh-ominpotence. Lol.


      September 19, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Uncouth Swain

      Please note I said red HEAD.

      If the red crops up anywhere else, count me out! 🙂

      September 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      @f and collins61

      Hmmm, I offered up atheist because I thought it would be more sporting. After all, there have been at least a few fairly horrible things committed by people at least claiming to be atheists. Incidentally, we do care about things. Lots of things, in fact! Like intellectual honesty, and rational thought. If atheist doesn't work for you, though, I have at least one more option.


      September 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Atheist, you, of everybody, offer the least. You're about no belief system, no God, No nothing, so, why are you here?"""

      Why? Why not? Your religion and Islam have been at odds for hundreds of years. Your religions have been ball and chains around the ankles of humankind, hindering our progress as a species.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • collins61

      Well, I will concede to the redhead worship.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      For the redheads/gingers out there...beware of Denmark.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  3. LadyA

    There is really only one difference between the extremist Muslims and the extremist Christians. The extremist Muslims had the cajones to blow up a couple of big buildings in a country that has news trucks everywhere. Extremist Christians do it in tiny villages in third world countries, telling parents their children are witches that must be exorcised, where news reports won't see their brutality when they burn that child alive. Saying that all Muslims are extremists is like saying all Christians are extremists. Only those that are easily led around like sheep and can't think for themselves are the problems. Wake up people!

    September 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Staycalm7

      John Kennedy said, "the only thing to fear is fear itself". It was true then and still is. Here's another quote for you Muslim haters:love your neighbor as yourself.". How about another saying : what would Jesus do? I have my doubts he would be a hater. But Christians like to forget things like that when they get scared. Toughen up people! Be courageous and love!

      September 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      it was FDR, not Kennedy, who said that.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Kodes100

    Congrats & bravo!
    Shame on you Pamela Geller & I am happy that you didn't win.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  5. Me

    The only good thing about this is that no one should fly a plane into a building near by.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  6. Dino

    I like apple pie and cream cheese.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  7. Kevin

    This is a step in the right direction. Putting up this center shows that despite the attacks of 9/11, we can tell the difference between Islam, a religion of peace, and the radical psychopaths that exist in (nearly) ALL religions and ALL groups.

    The natural enemy of terrorism is cooperation and understanding... keep in mind that terrorism by nature uses fear, not bullets or airplanes, as its primary weapon.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  8. TheThinker1958

    I hope there area enough cameras around the center to capture those right-wind-nuts that will try to destroy or burn the building.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • f

      I hope the FBI, CIA, NSA, NYPD Anti-Terrorism Force and other watch those camers 24/7 and BTL all those Muslim terrorists who WILL BE coming in and out of the building.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  9. Leigh

    I find it funny how many people are quick to attack Catholicism, but support and sympathize with Islamists. As a woman it is scary to see a religion that is so hateful of women trying to become a part of American society.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • paulwisc

      Yet you fail to see, in this thread, how quick people are to attack Muslims, with no reason other than bigotry. Apparently that's OK with you. I *don't* find that funny.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • redragon

      Um... Christianity does the same thing to women.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bvar

      Hey Paul, wake up. Did you forget the planes slamming the towers? This is not based on bigotry. It's based on the actions of a few Muslims supported by no outrage or outcry from the rest, other than the rejoicing in the streets of Dearborn Michigan. They make it clear where their sentiments lay by their silence.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • amust

      how can you say that, i have 8 sister raised in Islamic environement, my dad died 30yrs ago, my mum took care of all , and educated all of us as best as she could. Islam gives women the most right than any other system. The behaviors of indiviudal countries/ulture/customs should not be viewed as something coming out of Islam. 1400 years Islam gave all the rights to women what modern women is still strving for. that is Respect!

      September 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  10. Can'tStandIt

    bmstagger – Your comparison is insane. You do not know how good you have it here.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  11. HoldThatThough


    A few things need some clarification. First off, I am a Muslim, and I am against this Mosque at ground zero. I totally understand the sensitivity of the issue, sadly many so called muslims and the liberal americans do not. Those responsible for 9/11 were in no way or form followers of Islam, yet, they hijacked the name of Islam along with the airplanes and committed this horrendous act. Secondly, please stop citing Saudi Arabia as an example of some Islamic country. Saudi Arabia, too is no ambassador of Islam or muslim nation. Quite honestly, if there were to be a country or nation which could be considered to be a role model of Islam, it would have to be the Americans. Despite them following different faiths, their morals, laws and ethics are more close to Islam than any Muslim or Muslim country.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      Nice comment. My major issue with that mosque has always been the insensitivity of putting it there, ESPECIALLY AFTER the furor which arose. Going ahead with their plans despite the obvious opposition was a major PR blunder for Islam and the height of arrogance and/or ignorance.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I agree with Jeff

      It was upsetting that people got so up-in-arms over the mosque being built and as insensitive as it may be they do in fact have a right to do it, however after it became a national issue (which it shouldn't have) and there were many people on both sides saying this mosque shouldn't be built and they went ahead anyways begs the question of Why?
      Why build a mosque on that site which clearly causes a lot of people to get upset about it whether your believe they are being silly or not? Why build a mosque which now has a big target for any person who gets it in their head to extract some sort of revenge?

      September 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  12. Mreed

    Its all part of their big plan. http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=20098

    September 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  13. Joe Smythe

    @Howard, the difference is I'm not flying a plane into their tallest building.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  14. Sean

    It is a shame to see this Islamic Center open despite the horrific crime committed on 9/11. That crime would have never happened if not for Islam’s teaching of jihad and the false promise on an impossible after life without which, none of these lunatics would have been persuaded to commit such a horrific crime. Islam needs reform and clean itself of all the calls for violence against the nonbeliever and then it could be called a religion and accepted in the free world.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • InVT

      You mean would never have happened if the US didn't send guns and money to people who kill their friends and families?
      You mean would never have happened if the US didn't support regimes that oppress them?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      Nah... they would have found some other religion-based rationalization for attacking what they wanted to attack. Religion is the most convenient form of justification available for any action. Why else would it have survived for so long? Certainly not because of its success at predicting anything or actually helping anyone in any tangible way.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Kendall from WV

      "It is a shame to see this Islamic Center open despite the horrific crime committed on 9/11."

      Why? What did anyone in relation to the center have to do with 9/11?

      "That crime would have never happened if not for Islam’s teaching.."

      And of course if not for the Jews there would never have been any islamic teachings.
      If not for the Hebrews....there would be no Jews and no islamic teachings.
      If not for Abraham..there would be no Hebrews....no jews and not islamic teachings.
      If not for God...there would be no Abraham..no hebrews,,,,no jews and no islamic teachings.

      How about you go and complain to the management if you have the problem.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • JD

      It's a shame all these churches are being built after what Timothy McVeigh has done; Eric Rudolph; Anders Breivik; and countless other murderers caused by those with a twisted view of the Bible.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • AzSandRat

      All religion is a sham. It's about power. It's about control of the masses. Dump your preposterous belief in magic and the supernatural and see life and the universe for what it really is.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • collins61

      Whatever the reason, it happened under the name of Allah. Period. Get to that, but first, did you wash the devil out of your nose this morning.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @!AzSandRat- You can't see for what it is because we are unable to. We are too limited by our own nature.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Sam I Am

    Hopefully they will all wear their required vests and blow themselves up at the same time.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  16. bmstagger

    To those who say: Try living in a Muslim country as a non-muslim, I say, Try living in the United States as a non-christian. Extremism in all religions is a pretty ugly thing. And the U.S. is no exception. Go to West Virginia. Tell everyone you are a Muslim. See how long it is before you are attacked. Same for North Florida. Same for Arkansas. There is a reason they call it the Bible Belt... cause that is what they will hit you with if you are a Jew.. er.. Muslim.. er.. Atheist...

    September 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • f

      All the states you note are doing a great job of keeping the Muslims out. These states are still safe for your families.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  17. AmazingSteve

    @John in NY
    You're sort of missing my point. I used Catholocism simply because it's been in the news lately, and at least a few of the folks who are so strongly against this Islamic center are probably Catholic. I don't have any more of a problem with Catholocism than I do with any other religion – they've all got their fun little life-destroying quirks. I also know most Catholics don't support pedophilia, just like I know most Muslims support terrorism. My point was more that it's silly to protest one when you'd be perfectly fine with the other.

    Religious extremism, heck, lets just say extremism in general, destroyed the towers, not Muslims in general. It makes no more sense to blame your Muslim neighbor for it than it does to blame your Catholic neighbor for pedophilia.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Joe Smythe

    Why are muslims so good at blowing up things? Its like some kind of special talent they have.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Guess we know your talent..running off your mouth.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Howard

      Hateful jerks like you, Joe, that make the world an unpleasant place. Have you considered how much you have in common with the 19 terrorists in those planes? They hated; you hate. The only real difference is the spelling of your names.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Tyrone Robinson

      First we kick all the muslims out of the US, then we nuke Iran for good measure, and let all the muslims know mecca is next on the nuke list if the protest or even look at us wrong. That's how you finish the war they started.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • paulwisc

      Tyrone, you are just stupid and hate-filled. Muslims didn't start a war - bin Laden and his terrorists did. Or we did, depending on how you look at it.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Tyrone- There are nearly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Guess what? Most of them do NOT live in the Middle East. Duh.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • f

      @Howeird – We hate because they hated enough to kill over 3,000 innocent Americans. I DO hate them. However, in my show of tolerance and compassion I still have never hijacked 4 jets and crashed them into Muslim buildings to kill thousands.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "We hate because they hated.."

      We...they....va*gue much?

      September 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  19. petemg

    And this is what Port Authority and Bloomberg want. They are selling our country and future out for the sake of an arts center with children's pictures. We sell out so cheap so that someone can buy Muslim votes. How sad for the victims of 9/11. How quickly the rich forget. This was allowed so they themselves look good. So what other ares will be next as the Muslims sneak in under the wire.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "They are selling our country and future.."

      Last time I checked..it was there country and future too.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • paulwisc

      Oh, come on. Is it a sellout every time someone puts up a building in NYC? Exactly how is that buying Muslim votes?

      Why should lower Manhattan be off-limits to any particular group? Get real, bigot.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • UDFlyer

      I am amazed how some people forgot that one thing that makes this country great is religious freedom for all. Guess people who are anti-Islam and Muslim feel that Muslims are not afforded the right to practice THEIR religion. Here is a page that is worth checking out for those who truly believe in religious freedom and tolerance. http://www.acommonword.com/

      September 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  20. effelbee

    The prejudice shown on this web site is remarkable. I am an American who fought in Vietnam and I know probably about 10 families in the US who follow Islam (whose origins are in Christianity). They are fine citizens of our nation. Shame on you for generalizing that they are all terrorists. Are all of you Crusaders from the radical Islamicists perspective. Of course not!

    September 19, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • petemg

      I realize how we have bad Christians as well as they have bad Muslims. We categorize the two together because as the terrorists hit they cry for Allah. Dah and Allah is the god of Muslims. Why don't the peace loving Muslims separate themselves from the bad guys. If you were in Viet Nam you must remember how the barber during the day was the Viet cong at night. Get your history down please.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • paulwisc

      To petemg:

      Why do you think Muslims should be required to "separate themselves from the bad guys"? Were you required to do so when McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City?

      They separate themselves by not being terrorists but rather US citizens just like you. You just can't see that through your ignorant bigotry and hatred.

      And you know nothing of history.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.